Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Finding the Meaning of Life in the Waitomo Caves of New Zealand:

Me on The Black Abyss Tour with The Legendary Blackwater Rafting Co
 In our 8 months of adventure trotting around the entire globe, it is hard to decide what would make our top ten experiences. But without a doubt, caving in Waitomo, New Zealand is in the top three. New Zealand was a perfectly climactic end to our travels that was everything we loved about travel rolled into one tiny country. From meeting warm and friendly people to delicious food to naturally beautiful landscapes comprised of black sand beaches and acres of farmland to adventure that reminded us just how small we really are in the scope of things to awe and inspiration at how precious life is, we left our hearts in New Zealand.

This was my second trip to New Zealand and Mike and I decided to stick strictly to the North Island. Many people choose the adventureland of the South Island, but what I love about the North Island is all of the secret gems it has to offer and the more laid back atmosphere. I can't lie, we also have some amazing friends in the North Island with three gorgeous children that made it impossible for us to stray too far. But compared with my first trip to New Zealand, I can now say that I prefer the North Island.

We based ourselves with our friends in Te Awamutu and took trips to Rotorua for the Polynesian Spa, Raglan Beach where we watched a surf heat and then enjoyed a black sand beach all to ourselves, Marikopa Beach where we also had an entire black sand beach to ourselves, Mt. Maugnanui where we hiked up to a breathtaking view, Hot Water Beach where we dug a thermal pool in the sand, visited the geysers and hot springs of Hell's Gate, drove the Coromandel Peninsula where we saw Hobbiton and found one of the most romantic spots in the world - Cathedral Cove. But in between the beaches and spas and volcanic activity, Mike and I descended into the depths of the earth with three caving trips, a Kiwi pastime.

We went with The Legendary Blackwater Rafting Co. and all three trip were amazing experiences. The guides are experts in their fields, very professional and extremely patient, not to mention entertaining and all of them had that irresistible Kiwi charm. We kicked it off with The Black Labyrinth Tour, one of their classics- a 3 hour tubing, climbing and breathtaking tour through Ruakuri Cave. We suited up in wet suits and helmets and lept into the dark river running through the cave. We floated along the cave lit by glowworms dotting the belly of the cave and crawled through holes and jumped off waterfalls and took in the awe and silence that an experience like this inspires. We learned about the cycle of life of a glowworm and it struck me just how quickly it all goes. The glowworm actually only gets about 1-3 days of life as a gnat once it cocoons. I have been filled with gratitude many times on this trip but never as much as I was while cruising down a river on my back looking into a few lights above me in the darkness of a cave. It's a beautiful world and damn, I love it.

We enjoyed Ruakuri Cave so much we decided to also do a dry walking tour to learn more about the stalagmites and stalagtites and of course, to see more glowworms. The crazy thing about these huge stalagtites and stalagmites is that one centimeter takes 100 years to grow. Talk about humbling, we saw fossilized seashells in this cave because 35 million years ago, New Zealand was once beneath the sea. To stare at something so incredibly old was more than mindblowing. It inspired a sense of urgency in me - the urgency to not waste one single second of my life. I suddenly did not want to hold onto anything I didn't need including negative energy, past grudges, the stories of my past, the stories we all hold onto and tell ourselves over and over again. I am only 32 years old and my life will one day come to an end, and the sea will keep on being the sea and the sky will keep being blue and glowworms will keep glowing. There is no "but" in there, only "and." I am a part of this thing, this living breathing world until I'm not. For a moment I felt the complete absence of fear which for someone who can worry quite a lot, was a liberation unlike any other.

But to top it all off was the Black Abyss Tour - a five hour tour including repelling, tubing, a zip line, climbing up waterfalls, jumping off waterfalls, and a silent cruise through the cave lit up by millions of glowworms. The Black Abyss Tour was my favorite because there was a flirty dangerous element to it. To descend 35 meters into darkness and to zip line through complete darkness gets your heart pumping in all the right ways. I felt both like a bad ass and completely alive and present. The glowworm cruise inspired the same feelings it did on the first two tours - the feeling of absolute gratitude for my life and this world.

Mike, who grew up a huge Goonies fan, is an experienced explorer and a lover of life also said to me that caving in the Waitomo Caves was by far one of his favorite experiences on the trip.

To the guides who helped make these trips so memorable - Nicole (Black Labyrinth), Chris (Walking Tour of Ruakuri Cave) and Matt and the ever charming and reassuring Scuba (Black Abyss) - a giant THANK YOU!! I can't stress enough how much we loved these experiences and how they helped conclude an amazing adventure for us in the most positive and inspiring way.

In short, when you go to New Zealand, which you should, go to The Legendary Blackwater Rafting Co, the OG of New Zealand caving expeditions, and let yourself go.

1 comment:

Carmen said...

YES! to everything. an amazing country, amazing people, amazing experiences. i would dare to say life-altering. well said, all of it